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Vege Nian Gao at Sogo Tofu in San Jose

Melanie Wong | Jan 28, 200901:20 PM     11

If you’ve been reading along the posts for Bund Shanghai and China Village, you’ve picked up on the tradition of chowing on nian gao (e.g., Shanghainese new year’s rice cakes) in celebrating the lunar new year. The bias-cut chewy discs are typically stir-fried with strips of pork and some chopped greens. Another tradition is vegetarian eating on the first day of the year to respect living things and ensure good karma. On Monday, the first day of the Year of the Ox, I combined the two by picking up some nian gao to-go at vegetarian/organic food purveyor, Sogo Tofu. Sogo is the “ancestor” of Hodo Soy, run by the kids, and hews to more traditional Chinese recipes versus the contemporary and more Western-leaning flavors of Hodo.

Sogo Tofu offers a bountiful steam table selection from more than a dozen trays stacked double-decker for its bento box with a choice of three items plus steamed rice, brown rice, or spicy rice vermicelli. I’ve posted before about the generous serving size, now priced at $6.99. Again, the box was filled to near exploding piled up above the box seam and as always losing some of its juices into the plastic bag for carrying it away, so be careful. It was plenty to serve two of us for dinner and then some. I picked brown rice, the five-spice scented folded bean curd skin, spicy eggplant with dried tofu skin, and the nian gao.

The nian gao prep included slivers of black mushroom, tiny strips of porcine-looking mock meat, and chopped up pieces of fresh Shanghai cabbages. Maybe a little soft, but otherwise good texture on the rice cakes especially considering that they were steaming in the styro box for over an hour before I had a chance to eat it. The mushroom and faux pork added some good umami savoriness brightened by the fresh greens and I didn’t miss meat at all.

The giant folded over bean curd skin is my all-time favorite item here. Subtle in the seasoning, and neither too sweet nor too salty, plus a satisfying chewiness and depth of flavor. The chunks of spicy eggplant held together but melted into a velvety mouthful when you bite into them. The firmer square-shaped pieces of tofu skin soaked up the juices nicely and the seasoning on this dish was quite masterful and complex.

I also bought yogurt, soy custard (dofu fa), and tofu noodles (gansi). The strength of the vegetarian cuisine here for me is the range of textures, inclusion of fresh vegetables (e.g., green beans, Shanghai cabbages, red peppers, Chinese eggplant, Napa cabbage, bitter melon, mustard greens, gourds ), complex seasonings without using too much salt or sugar to boost flavor, moderate use of oil or deep-frying, and minimal reliance on mock meat.
This was a delectable and pious start to the new year.

Sogo Tofu
1610 S De Anza Blvd, San Jose, CA

Hodo Soy Beanery
2923 Adeline Street, Oakland, CA

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